Interview: Madeleine Berre
How can Gabon improve its business climate and what positive legislative changes have been made?
MADELEINE BERRE: The business climate is not limited to the fiscal framework of exonerations proposed to investors. It is necessary to highlight that an investor faces three major problems: their arrival and that of their teams in the country; the creation of a commercial entity ( subsidiary or branch); and hiring employees. These points have to be included in any strategy for investing in Gabon and considered by the different actors, such as the Labour Ministry and immigration services.
For these reasons, the improvement of the business climate in Gabon has to involve:
• The implementation of an efficient framework to accompany investors with arriving in the country and visa acquisition times in order to facilitate organising business meetings in Gabon
• The thorough and effective evaluation of migration flows linked to the foreign workforce that is involved in large investment projects
• The creation of a 48-hour window within which formalities in company creation will be carried out; and
• The implementation of an arbitration centre capable of giving investors a flexible, efficient and rapid alternative to settling lawsuits, as opposed to facing backed-up judicial procedures All these steps must be carried out for long-lasting advancement in the business climate to be achieved.
What amendments to the Labour Code should be implemented to facilitate company creation?
BERRE: The impact of the Labour Code on the establishment of companies can be evaluated through the rules that govern foreign labour. The applicable texts on this point date back to 1968. Reforms accounting for the constraints of the labour market and available human resources should be initiated so that the social environment can endow itself with regulation that is flexible, modern and respectful of the employability of the national workforce. The need for expertise in some sectors, which necessitates higher workforce levels in certain areas, must also be taken into account.
Which specific fiscal measures could encourage increased levels of savings?
BALESME: The implementation of savings products backed by an attractive fiscal framework — such as the total or partial exoneration of the income tax on mobile capital (20% for individuals and 15% for companies) relating to interest or revenue from non-fixed investments. This measure could be combined with the development of retirement savings products in Gabon or the African Financial Community, allowing employers and employees to remit funds on banking insurance products. If this policy were then extended to housing savings products, it would have the double advantages of encouraging housing savings and widening access to real estate. Concerted action with banks should be carried out to encourage these mechanisms.
How has the public sector been reformed recently to improve the business climate?
BALESME: Several significant improvements have been made, such as the creation of decentralised tax centres that opened on April 2, 2012. There are two separate centres organised according to company size: the Tax Centre for Small Enterprises and Individuals and the Tax Centre for Medium Enterprises. The objective of both is to provide a more accessible service and develop service quality for the benefit of taxpayers.
The Accredited Management Centres project has also been initiated with the support of the Chamber of Commerce and the Union of Expert Accountants of Gabon, as both groups support improving the quality of accounting, financial information and fiscal declarations made by taxpayers, especially those statements made by small and medium-sized enterprises. Such initiatives should be taken by other sectors of the public administration, particularly by the Ministry of Labour in what concerns the granting of work authorisations.
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